It’s commonly said that every picture tells a story. I agree that every picture contains content, that has something to say. In other words, every image has a story inside of it. There is however, a story behind every image as well. What hardships did the photographer go through to make it? What did she/he learn along the way? Was it an adventure? Did the photographer learn more about the subject, photography, or themselves?
Photography is as much about the experience as it is the photograph. I rarely turned down an opportunity to make a photo, but in retrospect, there were times when I would have forgone the image for the experience.
To me personally, nature photography stands alone as the most fulfilling of all photographic endeavors, above and beyond the act of actually making the image. A hike through a northern forest, a southwestern desert, or over a mountain pass is in and of itself magic, whether you make pictures or not. Then add some images that will forever bring back to meaning of that day, and you have perfection. Perfection is hard to find.
I have been making images since 1971 and writing about them since the late 1990s. Sharing the story about the pictures has become almost as important to me as sharing the image.
Guadalupe Mts. N. P. in Texas is a relatively small desert/mountain park. I was there for the first time in the early 1990s after visits to Bosque del Apache NWR and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. I drove into to Texas in the dark hoping I would be able to figure out where its most prominent peak, El Capitan, would be juxtaposed in respect to the road. Even in the dark, I could see this well-known peak reaching towards the sky. I set up a medium format camera pointed towards the mountain. My hope was to capture it bathed in the morning sun. I then set up a 35mm camera and another tripod pointed the other direction towards that actual rising sun. I was successful but my images showed only the golden peak, and a few grasses in the foreground. I wanted something to keep future viewers interested in the whole image, not just the mountain. There is more to the Guadalupes than just El Capitan.
In early 2006 I had just finished several days on the Gulf of Mexico in east Texas, and Big Bend N.P. in the west. I decided to head up to Guadalupe and make a more interesting picture than the first time.
There is really only one small loop road that leads you through the campground and past the visitor center at Guadalupe. This is a hiking park. I decided to stop at the center and see if there was a rustic road along the south side of El Capitan that I hadn‘t heard of. Yee ha…..there was. It was a dirt road heading off the paved highway that began just south and east of the peak. The light should be good in the afternoon. Of course….she said, it might not be passable. I decided to find out.
Indeed my small rental car could not make it through the rocks and ruts of the rustic road and I wound up searching for images only a short hike from the two lane blacktop road that passes by. I made slight variations of a theme. I pretty much accomplished my goal but most importantly, I visited an old friend that over 20 years ago peaked out of the darkness to illuminate my morning.
You can be just as “artsy” with little critters as with anything else. I had spent a long morning creating macros when I came across this little damselfly. I loved the way it clung to this blade of grass. It almost seemed like it was a security blanket. I determined that 1/40th sec was the slowest I could go with shutter speed and still stop the very slight sway there was to the grass. That meant an aperture of f13. Very little depth of field at this close distance. I decided I actually liked the out of focus, dissolving grass in front of my sharp little friend. I made that determination with my depth of field preview lever. The most underutilized function on most photographer’s cameras.
As photographers we have the right, maybe the obligation to interpret what we see. Sometimes those interpretations come out abstract, sometimes literal, and sometimes in between.
Very few of my wildflower images emanate from cactus plants. I view that as a failure on my part as I have had enough opportunities to photograph them, but have often just kept on with my landscapes or bird photos. I found this blooming cactus in New Mexico one spring and decided for a very literal image. Personal interpretation can lead to unique and sometimes abstract images, but it can also lead to “straight up” views of subjects. Both are good and we should be as happy with one as the other. Straight up images can be art, just as abstractions are not automatically art.
One wet bunny. I love photographing small mammals, and certainly rabbits make great subjects. I had just photographed the sunrise, and some dew covered flowers when I spotted this wet (dew covered?) young Eastern Cottontail. Rabbits are a very difficult subject, but when they are young and have been kicked out of the lair, they are at their easiest to photograph. They are still very naïve, and they have no territory of their own. Young males tend to worry more about adult males and whether they will be driven away by them, then they do photographers. They are equally vulnerable to birds of prey, as well as coyotes and foxes. This one was lucky to find a hunter, that only wanted pictures. I thanked him, and moved on.
I’ve made very few pictures in the past two years, but it seems that almost anytime I go out, I find a bird waiting for my camera. This Sandhill Crane and its mate, were waiting for me as I entered Bong State Park. I have always been very blessed as a photographer.
I made this image on a North Dakota prairie in 2006. I was attracted to the clouds and initially that was my subject. Eventually I decided to add just a pinch of grassland to give those clouds some context. When I used to travel, and my day was winding down, I would begin thinking about places where I could photograph the next day’s sunrise. If overcast skies were in the forecast I would obviously look for a different sort of subject, and maybe sleep a little later. Breaking storms were my favorite forecast and that is exactly why I rose so early on this day. An hour after this was made I was sitting in an old-fashioned diner eating breakfast. Not the sort of place that was made to look like an old-fashioned diner, but the real thing, fifty years out of date. There are many reasons to roam the back roads of America.
Photographing sunrises can mean a lot of different things. These three images were all made within a few moments of each other on a beautiful morning along a Lake Michigan beach. Before the sun reached the horizon, the mood was so serene I almost meditated through the experience. When the sun finally reached the horizon, the wave action began, and I was called into action.
You all know it’s coming. Soon the seasons will change into my favorite….autumn.
There are many ways to photograph any subject. I was always on a mission to photographically separate the seasons, and do so in a wide variety ways. All three of these images say autumn, but they do so in very different ways. How many ways can you photograph a subject?
Whether it’s the journey traveled to make an image, or the story of how we made the photo, every picture has a story. Make sure to share yours.
I’ve given much advice on this blog, and some of it flies in the face of what most hardened professionals would agree with. Most would tell you, to keep only your best pictures and share only the best of those. Through much of the 1990s and 2,000s, that was also my advice. About 2010 or so, when I began this blog, I changed that advice to suggest that you keep your mistakes, and share them too. What I meant was, that sometimes what seems like a mistake initially, can tell a story or convey a feeling that you missed. We photograph not only with our conscious, but our subconscious as well. I think Scott Adams said it best.
“ Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep” Scott Adams
Have a great day and God Bless, Wayne